We sure hope the FCC’s record proposed indecency fine of $325,000 against Roanoke, Va., TV station WDBJ does not signal a return to when the agency was deciding that something like a funny home video showing a pacifier that slipped down the backside of a baby was halfway to being legally indecent.
The decision may actually prove to be a vehicle for change if it ultimately is reversed in court. Granted, most aren’t arguing that inadvertently showing a pornographic clip in a 6 p.m. news story about an ex-porn star turned rescue squad member doesn’t violate the FCC’s indecency standard—vague as it is—but a court would likely have to rule on whether that standard violates speech protections, something the Supremes have avoided.
Such a challenge would take years to resolve. In the meantime, we hope this is a fact-specific one-off decision and not the start of a new crackdown on content. Chilling broadcast speech at a time when TV homes everywhere are filled with top-notch cable TV fare that is not similarly bowdlerized will be just another way to tie broadcasters’ hands, this time in the march toward over-the-top video, where anything goes.